Speech: “Why Property Rights Matter”
Beachcomber Hotel, Nelson – Thursday, 27 February, 2020
David Seymour, MP for Epsom, ACT Leader
Thank you to everyone for coming tonight. Thank you especially for Kevin, Mitch, Paul and others who have worked over the past few months to put together an ACT rally in Nelson. It’s nice to be here in the sunny land of Rutherford, fishing and forests.
I hope that I can convince you tonight not only that we need a change of government in New Zealand, but we need to guarantee a change of direction, too.
We can’t just change the management, we’ve got to change the business plan.
That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I’m here as the leader of ACT.
There’s a lot of reasons why you might have come here tonight.
Some people want licenced firearm owners to be treated with the same dignity as everyone else who follows the law.
Some people want to secure the right to think and speak freely without worrying about a knock at the door.
Some people want to have legal choices about how they die if they find themselves suffering at the end of their life.
I’m sure there will be people who want to see the primary sector treated as the sector who feed the country and many more beyond, not as public enemies.
There will be people who are landlords and can’t work out why the Government is punishing them for offering a service. People are getting out of the business and ironically it is the tenants the Government was trying to help pay more or miss out on the service altogether.
There will be others who have worked hard to become employers. You care about your staff but the Government’s regulatory attacks make it barely worth doing.
Tonight I want to show you that people with all of these concerns and more have one thing in common. It’s your right to the peaceful enjoyment of your property that this Government doesn’t get and happily violates.
Folks, I put it to you that we’re all bound together by our value of property rights. All of the groups I’ve talked about are being attacked in the same way. Some people might wonder what free speech and End of Life Choice have to do with property rights. That’s easy. The most valuable property you own if your own body.
The basis of nearly everything
There’s not much meaning in life if you can’t plan a better tomorrow, and carry your plans out. Unless you’re a nudist, your plan probably involves property, so it’s hard to carry out your plans without secure property rights. Q.E.D. Property rights are essential to the meaning of life.
All through history people have been poor. The main reason is that there was no point in saving for tomorrow. There’s no point planting a crop if someone might nick it. There’s no point saving if your money might get taken. There’s no point getting an education if you’re not going to own the earnings you get from your skills.
There’s no point having a shop of a factory if people are going to loot it.
If tomorrow is going to be the same as today no matter what you do, there’s no meaning in life. There’s actually experiments on animals where they get depressed if their behaviour suddenly stops getting rewarded.
Secure property rights mean we can accumulate unimaginable wealth. For 100,000 years our ancestors fought each other over berries, now we just order them online.
That’s why the first and most important job of any government is to protect your rights to private property.
We’re lucky that our government is better at it than most governments in the world today. We’re not Venezuela. It’s better than most governments in history. We’re not feudal England.
Our Government runs a system of policing, courts, prisons and property registers so we don’t have to worry about thieves and thugs taking our property. It works pretty well, but over the last two years, our Government has become the biggest threat to property rights.
Next month we’ll commemorate our nation’s tragedy in Christchurch. I think we should be proud of the way that New Zealanders of every creed and race came together. We were united by the fact that terrorism, violence and hatred are wrong.
To borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister, we all said they’re not who we are.
So far so good, except the way licensed firearm owners were treated is a disgrace.
It’s fundamentally a violation of property rights.
Normally our rights are protected by the rule of law. In our parliamentary democracy we trust the law because it’s made by our representatives in consultation with us.
The nine day sham legislation that made a quarter of a million firearms illegal was a travesty. It collectively punished a group of New Zealanders who’d done nothing wrong for our country’s most heinous peacetime crime. It eroded trust in the law and the police. It set New Zealanders against each other.
An incredible thing for a Government to do, especially when it goes on endlessly about wellbeing. Not only was it morally wrong, but the practical outcome is tens of thousands of prohibited firearms that just went missing and record distrust in police among the law abiding firearm community.
Now there is a second tranche of legislation that makes it harder to run a club, invades the doctor-patient relationship, and threatens a government registry of firearms that is one leak away from becoming a steal-to-order list for the gangs.
Why did they do it? Well, the Royal Commission will likely give us the answer. They didn’t want to be responsible for running a regime that let an Australian weirdo on the wrong side of the Tasman, a single male living alone with, shall we say an interesting travel history, buy a couple of AR-15s on an A-Category licence and buy 3,000 rounds of ammunition, all signed off by the police.
They had to do something, anything, to distract attention from that failing and they went after the property rights of people who’d done nothing wrong.
That’s why people are justifiably angry, and that’s why the next government will have to start again. We’ll have to find a way to bring those missing firearms back under lawful ownership. We’ll have to dump the dangerous and misguided register before it is built. We’ll have to get the police out of Arms Act administration and policy advice so a real administrative agency can make sure only truly fit and proper people have firearms and they are treated with the same respect as everyone else who follows the law.
Some people think property rights are different from human rights. They’re the same. The most important thing anyone owns is their own mind and their own body.
Heroes in our society fought for centuries for the basic rights we take for granted. For everyone to own their bodies, and to be able to think and speak freely.
When you take those rights away you are someone else’s property. Someone else decides what the correct religion or opinion or attitude is. Freedom means deciding for yourself.
Over the years we’ve built up a pretty good set of rules around what you can freely say. You can say anything you like, so long as you don’t threaten others with violence or call on others to commit crime.
Free speech isn’t just a human right, it’s the only hope we have of making progress and working through our differences peacefully. It meant Galileo could say the Earth revolves around the Sun. It meant Kate Sheppard could say women have equal rights to men. It means we can say the current Government is a threat to our rights and freedoms.
And this Government is a menace to our freedom of speech. This Government wants to introduce hate speech laws, but it can’t tell us what that means. Where is the line between free speech and hate speech.
It ends up being the difference between speech that is politically popular and acceptable, and speech that the authorities don’t like. The problem is that the enforcers are always political animals in their own right.
Take the Human Rights Commission. The Disability Commissioner is running a disgracefully politicised campaign against my End of Life Choice Act. The Race Relations Commissioner doesn’t like some of our jokes and wants us to change our sense of humour. The head honcho, the Human Rights Commissioner, used to work for Jeremy Corbyn and is far too comfortable with his old boss’s anti-Semitism for my liking, anyway.
Laws where a crowd like that can punish you for having views they deem offensive are worth fighting this election for all by themselves.
End of Life Choice
I’m proud I turned down a ministerial post to put End of Life Choice on the agenda. It is, again, a property rights issue. Who owns your body? If you are suffering at the end of your life, who gets to decide how you go and when you go.
ACT’s answer is simple. It’s your life, it’s your choice. Within a rigorous set of safeguards set out in the law, you should be able to decide to die on your terms with your timing.
The alternative is this. You are dying, terminal. You are suffering. The technology exists for you to choose how and when you go, minimising that suffering.
In what civilised world do we say to people unfortunate enough to find themselves in that position “no, sorry, but you have to keep suffering more than most of us ever will because we won’t let you choose?”
It’s not a civilised word. It’s a world where you don’t own even your own body. Other people decide what you can’t do with it. That’s wrong. ACT is campaigning for the End of Life Choice Act to be voted into law this September because you won your life. It should be your life, and your choice.
The Racing Reform Bill
Firearm laws, free speech, and End of Life Choice are three big issues that have got attention over the last 12 months. But actually property right issues are everywhere.
Let me run through a few more.
Racing clubs already lost the tote years ago. The new Racing Reform Bill would effectively nationalise community assets built up and cared for by generations. If you doubt that, look at how those communities are reacting.
Just last week I saw a resignation letter from a campaigner in the Mt Albert Labour Party who was there with Helen Clark from day dot. The issue? Clark as local MP fought to keep the Avondale Jockey Club in the community’s hands. Clark’s successor, the current MP for Mt Albert and Prime Minister, is letting Winston Peters put through legislation that would take it away.
The Dargaville Racing Club has sent an open letter to the Racing Minister, comparing him with that great kleptocrat Robert Mugabe.
Of course, there are big problems in racing. The stakes are high because the stakes are too low. The right way to reform it would be to start by respecting the property rights of the clubs that make up the sector, and build from there. We’ll never have a strong racing industry without strong clubs.
At Ihumātao, Jacinda Ardern buckled under the pressure created by a tiny ragtag group of protestors, including some communists and prison abolitionists. The Prime Minister took the side of people illegally occupying private property, rather than the owner of the property.
Now the Government has been unable to come up with a solution and is dragging its feet. Understandably, Fletcher is frustrated that it can’t use its own property to develop 480 homes for Aucklanders.
You don’t have to feel sorry for Fletchers to be worried about this. Think about the precedent the Prime Minister is setting. If you illegally occupy somebody else’s property, the Prime Minister may come and encourage you. I wish I was making this up.
I know there are those who will say, ‘oh, but the land was stolen in the 1850s.’ Well, yes it was. Actually many bad things happened in the 1850s, the simple question is this. Do two wrongs make a right? If you think the solution to illegal land confiscation in 1850 is illegal land confiscation in 2020, I don’t know how to talk to you.
The Māori Party is now angling for privately-owned land to be opened up for Treaty settlements. Just remember that’s the same Māori Party the National Party is quietly assisting to get back into Parliament. It’s called power at all costs.
Significant Natural Areas
The just down the road on the West Coast, a massive government land grab is going on. Maybe we haven’t come so far since 1850 after all.
The ominous sounding “National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity” will require councils to identify Significant Natural Areas on private property. It will prevent landowners from being able to develop them.
No compensation will be provided. It’s theft. This is a huge issue on the West Coast where 15 percent of land could be locked up by the council. Not only will it prevent economic development, but it’s dumb from a conservation point of view.
You see conservationists should care about property rights. Why? Well please let me give you this thought. The pollution is always in the places nobody owns. It’s in the air, it’s in the water. It’s in the places where nobody has an incentive to say ‘don’t put that rubbish there, that’s mine.’ That’s why communist countries were environmental disasters.
If you take away property rights there’s no incentive to be a conservationist. Who would be a conservationist on their own land if the reward for doing it well is getting your land confiscated? It’s probably the single dumbest policy this Government has, actively punishing people if they look after their wetlands. No wonder people want to drain the swamp!
Landlords are also on the government’s hit list. Somehow they’ve got to be one of the Government’s enemies. This is really odd when you think about the service they provide to people the Government says it wants to help.
Landlords save and invest so renters don’t have to. They also maintain houses, and pay rates, they take all the risk of having no tenants and no income. They do all this for a flat fee. Incidentally, rental yields are far less than mortgage interest, so we really should be grateful people are mad enough to do be landlords.
You might think the Government would want to support landlords. Uphold their rights and help them help tenants, right?
Of course they’re not. This Government doesn’t understand win-win. So they put in place more regulations such as making it harder to evict bad tenants. This Government says someone can live in your property against your will unless you go through an enormous rigmarole to prove they are not good tenants.
Of course, the result is fewer people want to be landlords, fewer properties are for rent, the market gets tougher for tenants, and rents go up. Win-win becomes lose-lose because this Government just doesn’t get property rights.
Employers are a bit like landlords. Employers save and sacrifice so they have enough capital to start a business. Often the working capital is their home equity. They have to produce a product their customers want for a price they can afford.
They have to follow all the laws of the land and ups and downs of economic conditions beyond their control. If they do all this they can provide a job.
A job is an arrangement where you get paid each fortnight without sleepless nights from having your life savings on the line to keep it all going. Jobs are really useful for helping people live better lives, that especially includes vulnerable people. There is lots of evidence that having a job is the number one cure for poverty and despair because it’s not just a source of income but social contact, too.
You might think the Government would be keen to promote these ‘jobs.’ You might think they’d want to make it easier to create them. You certainly wouldn’t expect them to actively make it harder.
But that’s exactly what they’re going. They’re making laws so union organisers can come onto your property and organise your staff against you. They’re making laws that say you have to pay more for the same work regardless of productivity. They think current wages aren’t fair. So they want to make Fair Pay Agreements, where wages and conditions at your business are negotiated in Wellington.
Well, you can guess the pattern. Of course, if you make it harder for people to be employers, fewer people want to be employers. That’s why benefit numbers are have been rising in some of the best economic times.
We could do a whole speech on farmers, but here’s a question. If urban voters want cleaner water in the country, cleaner than in any urban river, who should pay?
The Government’s answer is the farmer should pay. They are embracing the polluter pays principle. ACT’s answer is that beneficiaries should pay. If the rest of New Zealand wants the benefits of cleaner water, they should pay the costs, and the costs should be no greater than urban New Zealand is prepared to pay.
You can make the same argument for the Zero Carbon Act, that ACT alone opposed.
Of course, the Government doesn’t often take all of your property, sometimes just part of it. Tax is a partial property confiscation. The more government takes, the lower the return citizens get from investing in the future.
Here, government taxes 32.9 percent of all wealth created. This is more than any other Asia-Pacific government. You heard that right. Some people like to say we have low taxes, because they compare us with European basket cases. We need to compete in our own neighbourhood, and we’re highly taxed.
We have to start reducing our tax burden if we’re going to be competitive.
Urban Development Authorities
The Government is also making laws that will allow Urban Development Authorities to legally take your land. Not content with regulating what you can do on your land, the Government wants to take it off you.
You are hearing right. The Urban Development Bill will give Kainga Ora the right to take land that it ‘needs’ to build houses. There have long been laws that said if you were the last person stopping a road being built, you had to sell. There are laws against blackmailing public works. We accept that.
But this bill means the Government can buy a person’s property against their will for housing development. There are a million other things the Government could do to make development easier before it starts nicking people’s property, but this Government doesn’t believe in property rights.
The campaign for property rights
This year’s election can be sliced and diced many ways. But the ACT Party says it is the property rights election. If you believe that you own your house, your farm, your firearm, your business, your own body and even your own thoughts and the right to express them, then you believe in property rights.
Here’s the thing. If your property rights are under threat because you’re a farmer and your friends property rights are under threat because they’re a landlord, and your boss’s property rights are under threat because they’re an employer, and your friend just lost their hunting rifle and your sister is being hauled in by the Human Rights Commission for saying the wrong thing, then you all have the same problem.
The problem we all have is a Government that fundamentally doesn’t care about property rights. If you do care about property rights, I hope you’ll join ACT’s campaign to defend them.